How to Cook a Turkey

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Wondering how to cook a turkey? We’ve got you covered with these easy tips that result in a delicious roast turkey.

How to Cook a Turkey | Good Cheap Eats

This post is for my kid sister. She moved away from our home state a few months ago and now resides in the historic village of Williamsburg, Virginia. This is also her first time making a turkey. Really? How can that be so?

Anyway, I was planning to write this post and then abandoned the idea and then she said, “I really need you to write that post.”

So, here we are.

I have cooking a turkey at the holidays for almost twenty years. Holy smokes. That’s a lot of turkeys now that I think about it. And there have been some mishaps: not thawing it in time and running out for a fresh bird the night before, flinging turkey all over the kitchen trying to lift it out of the roaster, throwing out my back trying to get it into the oven.

So far, though, the only casualties have been my back — and the turkey, of course.

How to Cook a Turkey | Good Cheap Eats

Here are my suggestions for getting your bird cooked:


Cooking a turkey should not be intimidating, provided you have the right equipment for the job.

Pan and rack/lifter – If you have a sturdy roasting pan with rack like this one, great. If not, a disposable turkey pan (available at the grocery store during the holidays) and a turkey lifter will work well. The turkey lifter is not a necessity, of course, but it will help with the flinging turkey all over the kitchen bit. Note that if you’re going to use a disposable aluminum pan, you will need to stabilize it with a baking sheet underneath.

Turkey bag – I am old school and I love the turkey size roasting bag. It may not be the gourmet way, but it works for a foolproof turkey. I use the brand that I buy at the grocery store. Inevitably, the little silicone tie will go missing. Don’t worry about it. You can use kitchen twine to tie the bag shut.

Large stock pot or slow cooker – You don’t need this for the turkey, but to be a super Good Cheap Eater, have this ready for making stock afterward.

How to Cook a Turkey | Good Cheap Eats


Some forethought is necessary in getting the bird to table.

Thawing – For ultimate food safety, thaw the turkey in the refrigerator in a pan to catch the drips. I knew a lady whose turkey dripped all over her pumpkin pies. Ewww. Make sure you place it in a pan. Allow sufficient time for thawing, about 6 hours per pound. Hop on over to the Butterball site for a nifty thawing calculator. Yes, you can quick thaw it in a sink of cold, runnning water. But, seriously, who wants to mess with that?

Rinsing – That is a very big bird to put in your sink. Clean your sink before and after and make sure you wash your hands and any surfaces that come in contact with raw juices. You will also need to pull out the bag of giblets and the neck from inside the bird and rinse the cavity well. Yes, really. You’ll be fine. You can discard them or use them in broth and stuffing.

Seasoning – There are a range of seasoning options. I am pretty lazy most of the time because I count on a flavorful gravy to add zest to the plate. I typically cook our bird according to this recipe.

Oven space – Unless you have a large oven or more than one oven, you’re going to need to make sure that the other hot dishes you plan to serve have adequate time to cook. Everyone wants some of that hot real estate, so plan accordingly. Your turkey will need to rest for 30 to 40 minutes, so that should give you time to get the hot things hot.

Timing – The best way to calculate the doneness of a bird is to measure the internal temperature. The USDA says 165° is safe. There is a chart inside the box of roasting bags or you can consult the cooking time table here.


Gravy, baby – While the turkey is resting, you can finish off your other dishes as well as whip up some gravy. Follow these directions and you’ll do fine. And don’t skimp, the gravy is the best part!

Carving – This is a lost art. The men of Jane Austen’s time were raised to know how to carve the bird, the joint, and whatever big hunk of meat was served à table. Today, not so much. But, of course, Martha’s got you covered on this one.

What about the leftovers?

Turkey Meat – Package any leftover meat, either to freeze or to eat later, within 2 hours of cooking to preserve food safety. Since you will probably feel too lazy to do it later, I recommend, trimming it from the bones, and chopping or slicing the cooked meat right away. You’ll be glad you did when you go to mix up a Turkey Pot Pie or an Enchilada Casserole.

Dem bones – Toss any bones, skin, drippings, or other turkeyish stuff that you can left and make stock. The bones are full of flavor and nutrients that will go into the stock for fortifying soups and sauces later. And stock is so easy to make!

Do it right away so that you will feel extra productive when the meal is finished and you’re enjoying a slice of pumpkin pie.

Got any tips for Turkey time?

About Jessica Fisher

I believe great meals don't have to be complicated or expensive. There's a better way, and it won't take all afternoon.

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  1. Ann says

    My best tip is to have a large crockpot ready when you are cleaning up from Thanksgiving. Cut up the carcass to fit in the crockpot and put in carrots/onions/celery/seasoning that you prepared ahead of time, add water to cover and then close up the crockpot and cook on low overnight. This way, when you wake up in the morning, have had your cup of coffee and feel less overwhelmed, your stock is ready!! No need to babysit a pot on the stove!! Just strain it, pick out the useable meat and either freeze the stock and turkey meat or else serve turkey soup for lunch or dinner that night!

    LOL – Just looked at the video you had on making stock and you have the same idea!! 🙂 I find it just makes Thanksgiving dinner clean-up that much easier!

  2. AllieZirkle says

    Paper towels!!! This is the one time I surely stock paper towels. Once you rinse the turkey, you’ll need to pat it dry. And when you clean up the sick and surrounding surfaces? You’ll want paper towels on hand for this too! Oh, and once you’ve pulled out the turkey to rest and you’re ready to carve the beauty, you’ll want paper towels ready to wipe hands on. There is nothing worse than wiping greasy, turkey hands on a gorgeous apron, and smelling like meat for another hour (unless the Mr. like that scent? 🙂 ).


    • Jessica says

      Great point! I do get pretty messy! We also carve the bird on a cutting board set inside a rimmed baking sheet. That catches the drips.

  3. Becki says

    This is my third time to cook a turkey in almost 20 years of marriage. We moved away from all our family due to my husband’s job and once the kids entered school it was too hard to fly back for the holiday. So I started making the entire dinner myself a few years ago (the first year we went with ham!).
    Last year I made our turkey in a roaster oven and it was great. It freed up my oven for all the other dishes and it seemed easier to work with as it was all “counter level” rather than bending down to put the heavy bird in the oven.
    Thanks for your post as I still consider myself a “newbie” on turkey. I will be checking out several of your links!

  4. Janel says

    Thanks for the tips. Technically, I did make a turkey once…but that was at least 7 years ago. I think that was the year that you moved to Kansas. I sent Aimee the link so we will both know what we are doing!

  5. Meagan says

    This is the first year I have ever roasted a turkey- both for Thanksgiving and Christmas and I was very surprised at how easy and delicious it was! I brined my turkeys overnight in a solution of water, sugar, salt, soy sauce, and herbs. When it was time to cook, I rinsed and dried the bird, stuffed a quartered onion, a halved head of garlic and bay leaves inside the cavity and rubbed the outside of the bird with butter. Because the bird had been brined, I didn’t have to baste it so I got to hang out with my family while the bird roasted in the oven. Only problem is there weren’t many leftovers so next time I will buy a bigger turkey! I really think brining is the key to a delicious bird. It’s super easy to do, but you just have to find room in your fridge to do it.

  6. Sandi says

    Cook it breast side down for some really moist and juicy white meat. If you want the breast skin to be browned, simply flip the bird over for the final half hour. It makes a world of difference.

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